Apples and Oranges: How Tablets are Affecting E-Learning

For over 10 years,  I have been working with teams that develop interactive e-learning modules using Flash technology, and I am far from being the only one.

Recently, our clients have increasingly been acquiring tablets, and the majority of them have opted for the iPad. Of course, the common question that pops up is: “Why can I not view the e-learning modules on my iPad”.

The technical explanation is because Apple iPad decided not to support Adobe Flash on its device. We explain to our clients that this was a very controversial decision, but that it was defended by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs who sees HTML5 as the future of the interactive Web.  At first, this was regarded as an unwise move on their part, but one which does not seem to have affected their sales. There have been attempts to create applications to allow Flash content to be viewed on iPads, but we have not tested this yet with our content.

We also explain that, for the moment, there are tablets that support the Flash Player. This list might not be up to date, as it doesn’t list the BlackBerry Playbook, which supports Flash. That said, we have not tested our courses on them all these tablets either, nor can we guarantee that the screen resolution is high enough for the modules. There are also opinions that Flash-based content is not really compatible with tablets.

This explanation, though technically sound and legitimate, does not address the issue that more and more of our clients are acquiring the iPad, as well as other tablets, and would like to view their e-learning modules on them.

Unfortunately, our clients, the learners, are the ones stuck in the middle of this technology battle.

For the last 10 years, the Web has been interactive in large part because of Flash. A huge portion of the interactive e-learning modules segment of the e-learning industry runs on it. Some of the authoring tools created applications in Java or other technology, but they have historically been a smaller segment of the market.

So much like our firm, the industry right now is wondering “What we are going to do in the future?”

And to complicate the issue, last week, our firm had a huge upset in regards to Flash. We received some technical alerts from clients who could not view their e-learning modules, regardless of all the troubleshooting tips we prepared for them. We were finally able to isolate the issue after  extensive research, which is that the latest update of Flash (Flash 10,3,183,5) does not work with our online modules. Adobe has been sending mass updates for its Flash Plug-in, our clients have been installing it and as a result, they cannot view their e-learning modules. We have been working with them to uninstall their Flash Players and revert to an earlier stable version. For most of our clients, this is disconcerting, time consuming, frustratring, and I can understand them.

This whole ordeal was a shock to us, as our Flash-based authoring tool  has been successfully creating e-learning content for over 5 years now. Some research on the Web proved we were not the only ones who pulled our hair out with this update. In fact, the bug reports are increasing on the Adobe forums. The irony in this whole situation is that this Flash Player update fixed a problem with Apple’s Mac Operating System. Ouch!

I am certain this will be resolved soon, as Adobe has no interest in losing its dedicated Flash user base. The future of the interactive Web, according to some experts, is HTML5, though not all experts are in agreement. My opinion is that Adobe Flash is a state of the art technology that not only enabled the Web to be interactive and in-motion, but has grown with the demands of the Web.  As our expert Flash guru and Creative Director Stéphane Richer of Noise Communications points out to us, we have not seen the end of Flash yet.

That said, 3 weeks ago, Adobe launched an HTML 5 Web animation tool, most likely a strategic move to not lose its market share of interactive Web applications.

So getting back to our problem, in the future, we are going to have to consider how we build e-learning applications if we want them to be accessible to our client base. Some online discussions focus on whether or not Adobe Flash is still the appropriate technology for developing e-learning applications.

We will also have to give serious thought in product updates, and if we convert our e-learning module players to HTML5 or create different versions for different platforms. This however means a significant financial investment and I’m sure our firm isn’t the only one facing this issue right now. The bottom line is, no matter what we do, if we do not adapt our technology to meet the client demand, we are not going to be ahead of the game.

A Reflection on Eight Years of Moodling

I’ve been more engaged in corporate e-learning as of late and away from the academic side of e-Learning. But recently I have been exploring options for blended learning activities, more specifically a hybrid mix of instructor-led online programs. It got me going back to one of my previous areas of expertise: Moodle.

I logged into Moodle this morning to finally get acquainted with Moodle 2.0 and I realized my profile has been active for 7 years 345 days. How time flies! My first experience with Moodle was in graduate school, developing a group project in 2003 for a Human Performance Technology course. I remember the awe on everyone’s face when they saw the application. I also recall them not understanding completely when I told them that I had not hand coded the whole site but rather was using an open-source system.

And how Moodle has evolved over the last 8 years. The interface is flexible and robust, the modules and plug-ins are extensive and cover all the bases. The new Moodle 2.0 has integrated many of the strong user generated plug-ins such as the feedback module, which I always found lacked in the standard Moodle installation. And I have only just begun rediscovering it and all the possibilities it offers. Moodle most certainly is a strong argument for community developed systems and how the strength of many practionners advance a concept or a system.

E-Learning Study Shows Rippling Impact of Professional Development

ScienceDaily reports on Boston College researchers who engaged in large-scale randomized experiments with the purpose of studying the impact of online professional development for teachers who aimed at improving their instructional practices as well as their subject matter knowledge. In the e-Learning for Educators: Effects of Online Professional Development on Teachers and their Students study, what they observed was not only that engaging in professional development had an impact on the teachers’ performance, but that it had a rippling impact on their student’s achievements.

Boston College Associate Professor of Education Laura O’Dwyer reported that:

“The studies also show that teacher participation in online professional development can translate into improvements in targeted student outcomes.”

In addition, study Director Lynch School Associate Professor Michael Russell stated that:

“Given the positive effects found across these studies, it is reasonable to expect that on-line professional development is an effective strategy for supporting teaching in difficult-to-staff content areas, like mathematics and science.”

One could easily transpose these findings to the workplace training world and make a case for the importance of professional development of training professionals. The more we know, the more we can help.

References:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Taking Into Account User Experience In Your E-learning Design

Two months ago, Tom Kuhlmann wrote a piece on the importance of thoroughly reviewing your e-learning courses before launching them. One of his key tips was to watch learners go through the course in order to understand how they experience it. Web and multimedia designers call this user experience design testing.

ZURB, a team of interaction designers and strategists, put together a guide to facilitating feedback on user design which can be implemented throughout the design process. These techniques are very useful for understanding the user experience while following an e-learning course.

References:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

From the Innovative Mind of Janey Clarey: Instructional Design by Example Blog

Janet Clarey is one of my favorite bloggers on the topic of training and developement. It is no surprise that she has kicked off this absolutely fabulous idea of blogging about real life instructional design examples.

I wish her the best of luck possible and am thinking up an example to contribute in the very near future.

Corporate e-learning needs another blog. Oh yes. It does.

In this blog, you’ll find examples of e-learning courses and details about the instructional design process used in creating them. You’ll also find specifics about the logistics of the courses. Anyone is welcome to submit an example using the submission form. The site is maintained by Janet Clarey.

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Putting the Learner in the Driver’s Seat

Ever notice that a long trip is seems shorter when you’re the one driving? When I’m a passenger and I don’t have anything to distract me, I feel like a trip can go on forever. But when I’m behind the wheel, my mind is constantly engaged, thinking, processing and deciding. I actually prefer driving a manual transmission because I feel like I have more control over the car. (Sidebar: Earlier today, Karyn Romeis posted a very another interesting analogy about learning and driving and I discovered it after writing mine. Ah! I love mini-zeitgeists!)

In a post entitled Here’s Why Unlocking Your Course Navigation Will Create Better Learning, Tom Kuhlmann discusses the number one reason (I’ve heard) for why certain people are adverse to eLearning courseware:

Courses need to be designed to accommodate the uniqueness of each learner. And that doesn’t happen by trying to control them.

Yes! Exactly!

As a consultant, I find myself trying to get clients to understand this constantly. They argue that they want to make sure that the learners don’t skip something very important and that they need to ensure that everyone understand everything the same way – this seems to be very important in the case of certification programs. Maybe they’d be better served consulting with the spirit of Asimov…

Tom then goes on to make a case for problem-based learning:

Locking the navigation is a solution to stopping learners from clicking through the course. However, it doesn’t address why they’re clicking through it in the first place and not focusing on the content. Instead of locking the navigation, create a course that removes the reason to just click the next button.

This is something every good face-to-face to trainer knows well. In order to avoid having a bunch of blank faces staring back at you, you need to interact with your learners by asking a question or by soliciting their opinion, anything to get that little hamster running. The advantage of face-to-face training is the visual feedback that learners are disengaged. In an online setting, you won’t get that feedback and disengaged learners won’t be paying attention to the content, as Janet Clarey and her commenters demonstrate in a post entitled: What to do while attending a boring online learning event: stealth learning.

The premise of problem-based learning is to stimulate the learner to think. You first present a problem, get the learner thinking about it, get them interacting with the content, give them feedback. The idea is rather then spoon feeding the content to the learner, you get learners to arrive to the ideas and concepts you are trying to convey.

It is no wonder that Serious Gaming is getting more and more press and is being considered by organizations as a effective way to deliver training. I’m actually quite excited as I’m designing my first serious game for a project I’m working on – and this is allowing me to design a whole other level of problem-based learning.

I’d love to hear other creative ways people are designing problem-based learning!

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The Capacity to Recall vs. the Capacity to be Resourceful

In a post entitled Brain 2.0 : eLearning Technology, Tony Karrer discusses whether or not it is more important to be knowledge-able rather than knowledgeable. The basic premise is whether or not is more important to:

  • store a bunch of information in our minds that we can recall at any time (recall), or
  • know which information to access, where to find it and how to verify it’s accuracy (resourcefulness)

This reminds me of the research methods class I took a few years back. During one of the first lectures, we learned basic statistical formulas such as alpha coefficient and chi square. Now numbers and I aren’t always friends. I can work through formulas by following instructions but it takes all my concentration to do so and I often make mistakes. I have a tendency to inverse numbers a lot too. Anyhow…

I asked the professor when would it be appropriate to use chi square as opposed to alpha coefficient (I know now that they don’t do the same thing but I’m still not clear on what it is that they do). He answered that it depended on the data and when I would have my data, I’d need to listen to the data. For the exam, all I needed to do is memorize the formulas. Oh boy. That is perhaps when I decided I’d look for a thesis topic that would lend itself well to qualitative inquiry!

I need to learn things in context. If I know why I’m learning something or I have a set use for it, I’m more likely to remember it. So at this time, I can’t remember the formulas for either. But I know that they are available online. The thing is, that right now I have no idea when to use them, nor can I assess the validity of the resource. So I got a B in research methods, lowest grade during my whole MA, but I passed, but not without developing a total aversion to statistics. How absolutely unfortunate.

Tony Karrer refers to Brent Schlenker’s There is no Brain2.0…so why Learning2.0?, where Brent evaluates the pros and the cons of the e in eLearning, something I’ve addressed in another post. He argues that:

We must better understand the learning process in order to create better content and experiences. Its not just behavior that we need to understand. We MUST understand the human brain. (link from original post)

Absolutely, we need to understand how the brain works in order to design better content. If more people did, we’d have less of these page turning eLearning course with information recall assessments at the end of them. We’d create simulations and problem-based learning courses. And if we created these types of courses, perhaps “training” would give individual tools to make contextual decisions rather then be bounded to a set script.

Now I agree with Brent that technology is an important factor and that is where the “e” comes in. However, the technology can be used to store the tools and resources (formulas, language rules, procedures, etc) that we don’t use on a daily basis so that we can concentrate on thinking.

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